Book Review – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

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What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Book Review – ‘Real Live Boyfriends’ (#4 Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart

The final book in the Ruby Oliver Quartet… boys and mental illness.

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 225

From Goodreads:

Ruby Oliver is in love. Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back. Not only is her romantic life a shambles:
* her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos
* her mother’s got a piglet head in the refrigerator
* Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar
* Gideon shows up shirtless
* and the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever

Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks? Will she ever understand boys? Will she ever stop making lists? (No to that last one.) Ruby has lost most of her friends. She’s lost her true love, more than once. She’s lost her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she’s never lost her sense of humour.

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‘Real Live Boyfriends’ was a pleasant end to the Ruby Oliver series. Overall, I didn’t enjoy it so much – it’s all high school drama and teen angst, and the writing style E. Lockhart uses in this collection is skewed for a tween demographic. So it left me feeling old and unsatisfied. At least they are quick reads and lightly entertaining in that watching your younger siblings or nieces and nephews go through those years when appearance, and boys and girls are EVERYTHING. Reminds me of similar books like ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.’

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI enjoy realistic fiction in this target market and ‘Real Life Boyfriends’ is an important novel because it deals with love, crushes, parental relationships, and mental illness in a light-hearted but serious manner. Plus, protagonist Ruby seeing a Councillor (and recommending it in the footnotes) shows some great practical devices to deal with the issues brought up in the series as a whole.

It ends on a lovely note and we do see some character development from Ruby (finally) though I wouldn’t say it was as fully formed as I’d liked – but hey, she’s still a teenager and has a lot of growing up to do and life to experience. As with these novels, there are a lot of boys and flipping from one opinion to another on a dime, but Ruby seems more grounded in her convictions.

My favourite character has to be Polka-dot, the Great Dane and loving canine pet of Ruby and her family. At times he had more personality than his human counterparts.

Real Live Boyfriends’ was a cute reading experience, but on the whole, not something I particularly enjoyed or would want to read again. I’m too old and cynical to enjoy the writing style or subject matter. But that’s just because I’m not the intended audience, so duh! But I would recommend this to my tween nieces in a pinch. They would think these novels are hilarious.

I was entranced by some of E. Lockhart’s other works, hence the addition of this series to my collection. I’m glad I got to have read them, but it not a series that will resonate with me past the day I finished the book.

Overall feeling: Oh my hip! Boy I feel ancient!

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Treasure Map of Boys’ (#3 Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart

Ruby Oliver does it again in her boy-obsessed crazy world.

The Treasure Map of Boys (#3 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 208

From Goodreads:

Things are looking good for Ruby Oliver. It’s the thirty-seventh week that she’s been in the state of Noboyfriend. Ruby’s panic attacks are bad, and her love life is even worse, not to mention the fact that more than one boy seems to giving Ruby a lot of their attention. 

Rumours are flying, and Ruby’s already not-so-great reputation is heading downhill. Not only that, she’s also:

* running a bake sale
* learning the secrets of heavy-metal therapy
* encountering some seriously smelly feet
* defending the rights of pygmy goats
* and bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

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This didn’t feel as annoying or juvenile as the previous two books in the series. You can feel our protagonist Ruby is growing up. But she is still all-boy-consumed. Boy-crazy. I kept wondering if she was going to find something else in life other than her obsession with the opposite sex and what everyone thought of her… and we get a glimpse of it.

I feel like she slowly starts to come to the realisation of how the people around her actually treat her. What their real motives are. It was the first refreshing moment I’ve had while powering through this series.

The Treasure Map of Boys (#3 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe addition of Polka-dot was also a breath of fresh air. So too was working at the zoo. Something about animals and Ruby’s interactions with them humanised her more than anything else I’ve read so far.

It was nice to read that all the boys had faults and good points. That they were real. That there are no movie styled endings or plotlines to how life pans out.

And this book actually felt like it had some substance and an ending. Ruby finally had a turning point, or and epiphany that spoke to me. I’d been breezing through this series with no real connection or interest, waiting for E. Lockhart to dazzle me like I have experienced in her other novels, and I finally got a tiny glimpse of it. While I’m not yet ready to shout about this book series from the roof tops, I’m beginning to grow an appreciation for it. Yes, it is pitched at a tween girl demographic, and usually the writing is easy enough to digest – but with all the footnotes, the ‘ags!’ and goldfish attention span, it was very difficult to connect with the material. But I’m sensing a shift in the dynamic. With only one book left in this collection – and the glimmer of hope I’ve gotten, I’m actually looking forward to the final book. Slightly invested in Ruby’s plight.

Stay tuned to what will seal the deal of my opinion of the Ruby collection in ‘Real Live Boyfriends’….

Overall feeling: mmm I’m starting to like it…

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Playing Dead

…the one where I kept getting stopped in the street by concerned neighbours thinking my dog has been run over by a car.

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Baillie, my little black and white Shi-Tzu loves going for walks. He is gun-ho all the way. We stop at every blade of grass to sniff and wizz on. We wave to people on the street and get lots of pats. Doting words of what a cute pooch he is. We may stop right in front of said people, or in the middle of driveways to do a big pooh that looks like Polywaffle chocolate bar – lucky I’m not embarrassed. Kids giggle. Adults pretend it’s not happening and move on. I come prepared with doggie bags and praise him for his ablutions… saves me getting interrupted while working with a warning bark at the back door – Toilet time Mummy!

And that’s how the afternoon walk progresses. Heavy panting and pulling on the lead this way and that. Smell. Wizz. Smell. Wizz. Squirrel!

Playing Dead Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgUsually we get home before he drinks half a bowl of water and collapses, blissful, satiated. Though on rare occasions, Baillie runs out of steam… and there he’ll sit. Decided he’s had enough. And he’s not movin’. No way. No how. (At which point I start having flashbacks to YouTube clips of owners dragging their dead-weight furbabies along the pavement by the lead.)

Lucky for his miniscule stature and teddy bear nature, I can carry him the rest of the way home with ease.

He loves to be carried. Like a little child at night time, Baillie will always pretend to be asleep so I have to carry him to his bed. Observant to when I start to turn off the lights, he’ll lie down, faking slumber, waiting to be scooped up and placed on his blankie.

But he doesn’t snuggle into you. He hangs there like a wet limp noodle.

So as I’m walking back home from our afternoon walk. There’s Bailie, flaccid in my arms, tongue lolling out to one side. Flopping with each pace. He really looks dead to the untrained eye.

People run up “Oh no! What happened?” Then Baillie’s head will lazily roll to cast a discerning eye – really, the most minimal effort he can muster to satisfy his mild curiosity; to which I have to explain that he is fine and simply tired. Or lazy. Or just wants to be carried. “Goodness I thought your dog got hit by a car or something.” And then he gets pats and scratches… it’s all a big sympathy ploy I’m sure.

Such a baby.

But I love him to bits. And I’d carry him with me anywhere.

Muttly Mania by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Life is a Mess!

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I mean literally – the movers came and delivered a household worth of belongings, so I have boxes and furniture everywhere… no space to write! Oi Vey!

Yesterday for a panicked moment I thought I’d lost my dog, but he was merely weaving his way around the stacked crates, exploring like a kid in a fort, before I heard the jingle of his collar and found him happily wagging his tail, delighted with the new landscape to climb and sniff.

Most likely for anyone else my house looks fine – just a few piles of boxes here and there – but for me, one who likes a clean, clear home and workspace, it’s a nightmare. I just have to get the place back in order before I can work.

On the positive side, it’s like my birthday (which was in the week all the furniture got redelivered) and Christmas rolled into one! Things have been in storage for two and a half years, so I am rediscovering all sorts of things. When did I accumulate so much jewellery? Oh My God Look At All These Shoes! I’m never going to fit into these shorts again… it’s a relative rollercoaster of delight and despair.

I’m loving having all my “comfort things” around me again. All the lovely memories attached to each one. Photos of family. Gifts my mother gave me before she died. It’s all back. This birthday has been an emotional one.

So, until I have found a place for all the treasures I’m unboxing, posts have been scarce… well non-existent.

But I’m having fun. Playing hide and seek with my dog. Unwrapping forgotten items from the past. Re-inventing the ambience of my home. It’s just like reading an old favourite, discovering new meaning in the prose, and a new reason to love the cracked spine. Which reminds me – I’ve also doubled my book collection with more boxes of favourite novels now out of storage. Whee!

Closely on the heels of birthday celebrations and playing Tetris with moving boxes, was tropical cyclone Debbie and her aftermath. Flooding, road closures, brown-outs. I sat there in 120% humidity and stared out the window into white nothingness. Immersed in the swirling cloudbank it was quite an experience to hear the heavens open, but not be able to see any possible damage that was happening. I kept on washing and ironing as I unpacked another box of clothing or linen.

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Once the weather fined up Easter was just around the corner, and with the holidays brought many visitors. So, I got on my hostess hat and my cooks apron. Easter egg hunts and colourful decorations… the last three weeks have gone by in a mess and a blur. And I was amazed at how much time had snuck by and I hadn’t read a book or written a single thing. I’m determined to get back into the swing of things now that the house is back in order, but there is still a collection of boxes waiting to be unpacked hidden out of sight in the shed – but I’m in no rush to get submerged in yet another fun mess anytime soon.

First things first – the keyboard beckons…

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Film vs Novel – ‘Cujo’

Will Kings’ story of a rabid Saint Bernard stand up on the big screen?

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Though ‘Cujo’ is not as spooky as many of Kings other titles, I did like the supernatural element and themes of dominance through violence. I’m not convinced that it translated to the movie as the interconnectedness was lost through omission of certain plot points. Where the book is slightly misogynistic, the film in its 80’s horror cinematic style fails to capture the soul of its written counterpart.

The novel took a long time to build up. However, the writing style helped keep it from getting boring. There was always a little snippet of life outside the main plot – given that not a lot actually happens in this book. I loved all the little details. Masterful storytelling. I was engrossed even though the pacing felt slow in the first half.

I also love the mix of the supernatural even though it was small, it added a layer of connectedness and contributed to tension making some scenes terrifying. With a variety of characters and points of view, both good and bad and all different shades in between, each important ingredients to a wonderful narrative. However, the movie failed to include the malevolent presence in Tad’s closet – it was reduced to Tad’s childhood fears. Where the novel used the closet monster as both a precognition of foreboding, and a supernatural presence that haunted the area; the movie just had a rabid dog.

 

Great complex characters, including Cujo the dog, whom left me with conflicting emotions. His story is so bittersweet. As a dog lover, I did find it difficult to see the corruption of such a beautiful and caring canine from something out of his control. Whether intentional or not, the symbolism of rabies, alcoholism, violence, and the evil entity infect and corrupt completely; and it takes sacrifice and a lot of guts and determination to battle such elusive foes. The dogs acting was pretty good for the film, although wagging his tail in some of the attacks gave away some of his menacing air (not to mention his hair goes from short to long and back to short again in some scenes.) The make-up was a little over done, both on Cujo and towards the end on Tad and his mother. Both humans being the star of the film (Danny Pintauro and Dee Wallace respectively) and victims trapped in a smouldering car as Cujo’s rabies forces him into insanity and violence.

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Tad’s screaming got on my nerves somewhat, I wanted to throttle him at one point, and ended turning the volume off to continue with the movie.

Steve Kemp’s (played by Christopher Stone) retaliation on Donna (Tad’s mom) in the movie for ending their affair, was made to look more like a violent break in and abduction rather than a sexual power display of vengeance and shame as it is described in the book.

One other thing of note about the film were the policemen. Those scenes were constructed terribly. And the work the Sheriff’s station partook looking into Kemp ridiculous. It had much more efficiency and a sense of urgency in the novel. On the screen everyone in a uniform seemed like some bumbling hick.

The novel has lots of gore towards the end, adding to the desperation and devastation it drove home the shock at the end – which I did not see coming. This conclusion is different for the film, I guess to appeal to cinema audiences (and King himself stated if there was one change he could make, this was it), and dramatic effect. Pretty cool but loses the tone and themes of the book.

There was one thing that was not tied up though, and even missed in the final comments for the written version, and I thought King dropped a prime opportunity to leave us with a shiver. It has been connected as a sequel to ‘The Dead Zone’ where the supernatural presence in Tad’s closet is a boogeyman incarnation of Frank Dodd. Both the novel and film failed to tie up this loose end, or leave us with an ominous scene that the presence is still out there.

All in all a turbulent horror story about the corruption of innocence and inevitability of evil (and man). It still stands as a tale today, but certain technology (like cell phones and better mechanics) may render the plot a little defunct.

Cujo‘ is the only book to date (apart from Kings detective novels) that hasn’t had me pulling my legs up off the floor for fear of something reaching out of the darkness to try and pull me under. And well, the movie, I was too astounded at the ‘80’s special effects, occasional overacting and cropped storyline to get any type of fear or anxiety built up.

I’d rate the novel one notch higher than the big screen version… go Kingy!

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – I’ll Get There It Better Be Worth The Trip by John Donovan

Unassuming New York brought to its knees by a dachshund!

I'll Get There It Better Be Worth The Trip Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 228

From Goodreads:

When the grandmother who raised him dies, Davy Ross, a lonely thirteen-year-old boy, must move to Manhattan to live with his estranged mother. Between alcohol-infused lectures about her self-sacrifice and awkward visits with his distant father, Davy’s only comfort is his beloved dachshund Fred. Things start to look up when he and a boy from school become friends. But when their relationship takes an unexpected turn, Davy struggles to understand what happened and what it might mean. 

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I have mixed feelings for ‘I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth The Trip’ because upon finishing this book, I was delighted; but while reading, especially the first half, I was bored. But this is definitely a masterful title and something that will resonate with intelligent readers long after it’s finished.

The writing style is very blunt and staccatoed, it’s not an entirely unpleasant to read. Though, it felt so foreign to the types of books I generally read. It reads like a child has written it – which is very true to the inner voice of our protagonist Davy.

The star of this book is definitely Davy’s dog, Fred! He completely captured my heart and had me chuckling in many places. Who can resist an adorkable puppy?

Honourable mentions go to the realistic character portraits of the new best friend, Altschuler and Davy’s alcoholic mother. Both were painted in raw gritty colours through Davy’s eyes, and a story behind their behaviour is inferred. This made an intriguing read, not to have all the facts explained.

I'll Get There It Better Be Worth The Trip Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleA breakdown for the mediocre rating and the reason I found the first half less than exciting lies with how it felt very much like a recount of mundane facts. And on the surface that’s all it is. The perspective you gain upon finishing the novel will switch that all on its head. There is a lot of symbolism and metaphors, and it did take me a while to switch on to it all… mainly because I repeatedly put this book down (due to afore mentioned waning of attention).

Given this novel was written over 40 years ago, the tale still stands the test of time. I loved the description of the streets of New York, and Central Park – they jumped from the page just as brightly as Fred.

I went into this book not knowing anything other than it was about a boy and his dog and was considered a classic in LGBTQI+ Literature. It was nice. I guess I expected more to happen. ‘I’ll Get There, It Better Be Worth The Trip’ is quietly impactful. Much like life, it travels along innocently until something happens to shift your perspective: and that is the strong sense I garnered from this book.

It’s not necessarily a coming out story, but one of accepting loss and change. This fact alone sets it apart from the typical novel in this genre. At the beginning of the novel this theme is set up immediately when Davy’s Grandmother passes. The rest of the story line interprets the same narrative style in varying degrees.

It ends with a typical note seen in classic contemporaries, that … after a poignant moment, leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Which I like, and am starting to see a trend away from that in modern releases – not everything needs to be tied up in a pretty little bow.

A short novel with a lot of meaning, well worth the read – especially if you love dogs.

Overall feeling: I didn’t see that one coming!

I'll Get There It Better Be Worth The Trip Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

 

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.